Sunday, February 26, 2017
Tonight's Oscars are generally much less exciting or interesting than last year's, where there was an actual horse race for Best Picture. This year, it's all about La La Land and, to a lesser degree, about the Oscars atoning for last year's #OscarsSoWhite debacle; up to three acting categories could go to actors of color, and this is only the fourth time a black director has been nominated, and potentially the third time a black screenwriter will win.
And in the first months of the Trump administration, there is a good deal of speculation about what this Oscars ceremony "means," to what degree politics will enter the fray, and whether awards shows have the capacity or obligation to discuss larger political conflicts.
With La La Land poised to win over half a dozen Oscars, including Picture and Director, it's worth remembering the last time a musical won the top prize: At the 2003 ceremony, Chicago won Picture and five other Oscars. Those Academy Awards took place five days after the U.S. invaded Iraq. Michael Moore won Best Documentary and ranted against the President; people booed. Roman Polanski surprisingly won Best Director; people gave him a standing ovation (he was of course absent, living as a fugitive in Europe). It's worth remembering, in other words, that the Oscars' politics are complicated and contradictory; at the end of the day, this is a voting body that still prides itself on making safe choices in the middle, rather than venturing out of its comfort zone.
Should La La Land win the most, and win the show, tonight, it won't be anything new. It will be the Academy doing what it does best: playing it safe, and playing it to be well-liked.
Expect all political interjections to be as awkward and forced as the teleconferencing of First Lady Obama announcing Best Picture in 2013.
La La Land: 9, including Picture and Director
Manchester by the Sea: 1
Hacksaw Ridge: 1
O.J. Made in America: 1
The Salesman: 1